TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Google Formally Rejects Justice Department Subpoena for Information

Google Formally Rejects Justice Department Subpoena for Information

Eric Auchard (
Fri, 17 Feb 2006 19:58:45 -0600

By Eric Auchard

Google Inc. on Friday formally rejected the U.S. Justice Department's
subpoena of data from the Web search leader, arguing the demand
violated the privacy of users' Web searches and its own trade secrets.

Responding to a motion by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales,
Google also said in a filing in U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of California the government demand to disclose Web search
data was impractical.

The Bush administration is seeking to compel Google to hand over Web
search data as part of a bid by the Justice Department to appeal a
2004 Supreme Court injunction of a law to penalize Web site operators
who allow children to view pornography.

Google is going it alone in opposing the U.S. government request.
Rivals Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. are among the companies
that have complied with the Justice Department demand for data to be
used to make its case.

Google's lawyers said the company shares the government's concern with
materials harmful to minors but argued that the request for its data
was irrelevant. They offered a series of technical arguments why this
data was not useful.

The Mountain View, California-based company said that complying with
the U.S. government's request for "untold millions of search queries"
would put an undue burden on the company, including a "week of
engineer time to complete."

"Algorithms regularly change. The identical search query submitted
today may yield a different result than the identical search conducted
yesterday," attorneys from Perkins Coie LLP, the company's external
legal counsel, argue in the filing.

Complying with the Justice Department request would also force Google
to reveal how its Web search technology works -- something it
jealously guards as a trade secret, the company argued. It refuses to
disclose even the total number of searches conducted each day.

Google's resistance contrasts with a deal the company has struck with
the Chinese government to censor some searches on a new site in China,
a move that has drawn sharp criticism from members of the
U.S. Congress and human rights activists.

"Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google
search box ... that Google will keep private whatever information
users communicate absent a compelling reason," attorneys for Google
said in the filing.

The legal spat also comes amid heightened sensitivity to privacy
issues by the company as it recently began offering a new version of
its Google Desktop service that vacuums up data stored on user PCs and
makes it accessible on the users' other computers. For customers who
consent to the service, copies of their data are stored on Google's
central computers.

Privacy activists have rallied to the defense of Google for fighting
the U.S. government request while some conservative and religious
organizations have criticized the company for failing to help the
government combat child pornography.

The American Civil Liberties Union, with other civil rights groups,
bookstores and alternative media outlets filed a friend of the court
brief on behalf of Google.

The hearing on the Justice Department motion to compel Google to
divulge the search data is scheduled to take place on March 13 in San
Jose before U.S. District Judge James Ware.

"The government must show that this request is the most relevant way
to accomplish its goal," said Perry Aftab, an attorney, privacy
activist and executive director of, a popular online
child safety site.

"Why would Google or anyone else turn over data that might create
further risks for their customers? The public policy gains don't
outweigh the risks," she said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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